How the Gunas Rule This Life & the Next


The yogi of calmed mind, of pacified passion, free from impurities, attains the Absolute and the supreme happiness.

- BhG.VI.37; as translated by Krishna Chaitanya/KK Nair


In his ‘Literary Study’ of the Mahabharata, the Indian scholar Krishna Chaitanya/KK Nair says that the one who has attained similitude (sadharmya) with the Supreme Self, need not distrust his senses. He can ‘move in the world of sense-interests with joyous assurance (prasada) if his Self has become the master of the self (vidheyatma), and attachment and aversion are both within the control of the Self’ (ibid.II.64).



Free from all fear


The Kashmir Saivite Abhinavagupta writes that the person who Realizes their own nature as the God-within no longer feels ‘any dread from any quarters because everything is his own Self’ (Paramarthasara, Verse 58). What can cause fear when everything is experienced as one’s own Self.


When you Realize that you are not the finite temporal being, the small ego-self you have falsely identified with, then you come to abide in the Supreme Self. As this eternal Self, you feel that it is actually you who ‘playfully activates the whole circle’ of powers which create and activate the spheres of Maya as the causal creation, Prakriti as the subtle creation, and the material creation as Prthvi (ibid.Verse 47).


Maya is the principle the Absolute creates to take on the temporal illusory appearance of limitation. Prakriti is the sphere of the insentient Matrix and the unmanifest primordial source of objects of perception. Prthvi is the sphere of solid and gross matter. All these spheres of creation are the ‘outward or objective manifestation of the essential nature of God’ (ibid.Verse 46).



The chains of piety & sin


Abhinavagupta says that our confusion and suffering in this life are the direct result of our ‘companionship with incorrect knowledge. The evil of bad company [this incorrect knowledge or nescience] is indeed very dangerous’ (ibid.Verse 53).


When we are in ignorance of the Real, our consciousness resonates with the frequency waveform that is delusion. Delusion makes us feel that we are the Doers. This deluded state of consciousness impels us to ‘undergo births and deaths on account of their [our] being bound by the chains of piety and sin’ (ibid.Verse 54).


... engrained; and where

Darkness and dulness, sloth and stupor are,

'Tis Ignorance hath caused them, Kuru Chief!

- Ganguli XIV. 13


The after-death realms we call heavens and hells are the Lokas in Sanskrit. Loka is derived from ‘lok’ and its meaning is connected with the act of seeing, beholding, and recognizing. A Loka is defined as a wide space or world that is a division of the universe (M.Monier-Williams).





In the early texts, there were three divisions - heaven or sky, earth, and the atmosphere or lower regions. ‘There are three worlds of existence, triloka, which are considered as the primary hierarchical divisions of the cosmos. Bhuloka is the "Earth world," the physical plane. Antarloka is the "Inner or in-between world," the subtle or astral plane. And Sivaloka: "World of Siva," and of the Gods and highly evolved souls; the causal plane, also called Karanaloka’ (


‘The seven upper worlds are Bhuloka, Bhuvarloka, Svarloka, Maharloka, Janaloka, Tapoloka and Satyaloka. The highest three comprise the causal plane. The seven lower worlds, collectively known as Naraka or Patala, are (from highest to lowest) Put, Avichi, Samhata, Tamisra, Rijisha, Kudmala and Kakola’ (ibid.).



Expanding hell ...


There is no mention of hell worlds or punishment in the original four Vedas (S.Ghosh). However later texts, for example the Puranas, go into considerable detail, apparently relishing accounts of the various tortures of the hellish realms. I suggest this evolvement and expansion of hells worlds is the product of the Kali Yuga. These realms have continued to be generated as fractile-like expressions  of our human thoughts and actions via the chakras, higher and lower.


At the time of our death a waveform of a particular frequency is produced as the cumulative result of all our thoughts and acts in that life. This cumulative frequency propels us into an interim resonate Loka-world which correlates with our belief system, and eventually into our next corporeal form and subsequent lifetime.


Obviously most of us will in the moments of our death be in pain or considerable confusion. Therefore what we do before that time arrives is of utmost importance. Not only does what we do and how we treat others matter, it is also crucial that we learn to distinguish what is Real and eternal over what is temporal and illusory. We need to make a lasting connection with the God within us and practice mastering our focus over distraction.


Krishna tells Arjuna that those who have cultivated the guna sattva so that sattva comes to dominate (sattve pravrddhe) will go to that world (loka) which is pure and shinning, the world of those who are the Knowers of the Highest (XIV.14).


Moreover, when a soul departeth, fixed

In Soothfastness, it goeth to the place -

Perfect and pure - of those that know all Truth.

- Ganguli XIV. 14


Those who die when the guna rajas predominates their consciousness, for example in anger or still craving control, are reborn among those who are attached to action (karma-sangisu). While those who die when the guna tamas rules their being are reborn into the wombs of the deluded (XIV.15).


If it departeth in set habitude

Of Impulse, it shall pass into the world

Of spirits tied to works; and, if it dies

In hardened Ignorance, that blinded soul

Is born anew in some unlighted womb.

- Ganguli XIV. 15


Sattva produces acts which are performed a pure consciousness. The results of acts done in rajas are pain. Ignorance is the fruit of the guna tamas (XIV16).


The fruit of Soothfastness is true and sweet;

The fruit of lusts is pain and toil; the fruit

Of Ignorance is deeper darkness. Yea!

- Ibid.XIV.16


From sattva is born Wisdom Knowledge, from rajas desire, and from tamas comes the darkness of delusion and ignorance (XIV.17).


For Light brings light, and Passion ache to have;

And gloom, bewilderments, and ignorance

Grow forth from Ignorance.

- Ganguli XIV. 17


Location is the result of and determined by the frequency of our consciousness. When our consciousness is grounded in sattva, we find ourselves in the higher realms. While those who are existing in the frequency waveform of the guna rajas will remain in the middle worlds (lokas), and those who are tamasic will go to the worlds below (XIV.18).


Those of the first

Rise ever higher; those of the second mode

Take a mid place; the darkened souls sink back

To lower deeps, loaded with witlessness!

- Ibid.XIV. 18


All three gunas are the domain of the Matrix, Prakriti’s temporal illusory hologram. Those who are weary of her performance and the endless transmigration through pleasure and pain (sukha-duhkha), seek to transcend the binding power (guna-maya) of her webs.


Those who seek liberation from the gunas come to discern, by their own efforts, that they are not the Doer. All acts are performed by the gunas. The Soul that dwells within is the Real you and remains untouched and pure, eternal.


Those who Realize this Truth by perceiving (anupasyati) as the Observer (drasta) that it is the gunas alone that are ‘doing’ and making the temporal effects of the temporal illusory hologram, they merge (adhigacchati) into the Supreme Being (XIV.19).


When, watching life, the living man perceives

The only actors are the Qualities,

And knows what rules beyond the Qualities,

Then is he come nigh unto Me!

- Ibid.XIV.19


Those who come to Know the Real transcend (adtitya) the three gunas which have their origin in and operate through the physical and subtle body (deha-samudbhavam). They who transcend the three gunas are released (vimuktah) from birth, death, old age and pain (XIV.20).


The Soul,

Thus passing forth from the Three Qualities -

Whereby arise all bodies - overcomes

Birth, Death, Sorrow, and Age; and drinketh deep

The undying wine of Amrit.

- Ibid.XIV. 20






The Mechanics of the Gunas in B.Bhattacharya’s ‘Saivism & the Phallic World’


The Indian writer B.Bhattacharya was born in Varanasi (1910) and spent most of his life in the West Indies, Guyana and Trinidad. He wrote some thirty books, one of which is an excellent exposition of Bhakti Yoga. His two volume set, ‘Saivism and the Phallic World’, not only reveals a historical and spiritual understanding of Saivism (Shiva), but of Hinduism in its many diverse aspects.


The ‘Phallic World’ refers to the metaphysical principles embodied in the lingam, which is a 'mark' or symbol representing the universal creative forces and ‘the merging of the particular in the universal, the dissolution of the mind, with its agitations, aspirations and accomplishments that attach and adhere, in the atma-awareness’ (


In a section on the three gunas, B.Bhattacharya tells us that the gunas are much more subtle than atoms. Gunas are immaterial. ‘Hindu seers insist that the atoms themselves are subject to the subtle gunas.’ This sphere of influence extends to electrons and protons.


The distinguishing features of whatever is produced - the term often used is ‘evolutes’ - through the ‘imbalance of the gunas in the body of electromagnetic atoms’ never follows a given method and is therefore unpredictable. It seems that the Creator is not overly fond of what is predictable and enjoys our freewill universe.


The mutations generated by the ‘subtle balancing of the gunas is a phenomenon, the operations of which are clouded in mystery to material science.’ The protons and electrons are said to be astral ‘bodies’ (bhutas) that take shape into matter. The gunas ‘constitute the subtle aspirations in the [astral/subtle] bodies, and confer on them individual character, potentiality, and personality.’ This is the unmanifest generating, interacting with, and influencing the manifest.


‘The point of cause, and the point of motive, in the cycle of existence, start and end at the same point in a circle. The space within the circumference is the sea of consciousness.’ This circle is in fact a sphere.



The imbalances of the three gunas ...


The endless differences between things, the evolutes produced by the imbalances of the gunas, is based in their relative share of sattva, rajas, and tamas. This imbalance accounts for what is ‘near or far’ from our natural state of bliss consciousness. The spectrum of the gunas extends and expands from the self-luminous transparency of sattva, through the passionate urge to possess and control that is rajas, down into the density and delusion that emerges from the guna tamas.


Rajas is the guna that urges what is into motion. Once motion is invoked, it is perpetual. Tamas is the guna of inertia that slows and stops the urge to perpetual motion invoked by rajas. Thus the creator deity Brahma is the guna rajas, and Shiva as the principle of destruction is the guna tamas. Vishnu is sattva.


‘Mass and energy in this process become manifest to our senses as individual and distinct phenomenon.’ The effects produced in the external holographic matrix are always in a state of emerging or decaying. Our ‘inner senses’ allow us to access an ideal state, a sort of ‘center of the storm’ where we are beyond the confusion of the gunas machinations. This realm of this ‘inner senses’ provides us with the insights that reveal the Truth of the Real ‘beneath the curtain of each atom’ (Mahmud Shabistari).



The ‘mark’ of those who transcend the gunas


Arjuna. Oh, my Lord!

Which be the signs to know him that hath gone

Past the Three Modes? How liveth he? What way

Leadeth him safe beyond the threefold Modes?

- Ganguli XVI.21


After hearing of the interactions and effects of guna-maya, Arjuna asks Krishna what characterizes one who has transcended the gunas. How does such a person behave? How does one go beyond and transcend these three binding qualities?


Krishna’s answer is subtle. I think most of us have been led to believe that upon enlightenment we will immediately transform into some sort of radiant Light Being! In his commentary, Abhinavagupta says that because the three gunas - sattva, rajas, and tamas - are ‘present’ in all the states and every condition of life, the ‘yogin cannot avoid them.’ However the yogin, meaning one who has ‘yoked’ united their consciousness in the Supreme Self (Paramatman), is ‘free from the influence’ of the gunas because they do not ‘feel attachment or aversion for these qualities’ (B.Marjanovic).



Renunciation simply ‘sends back’


Krishna explains this state of consciousness - non-attachment - is seen in those who no longer hate nor do they desire for the effects of the gunas, good or bad (XIV.22). The five senses are constantly transmitting signals to the brain which are interpreted as objects in the external hologram; renunciation is the process of ‘sending back’ these signals to their source. Offer everything to the God that dwells within.


Those who are free of guna-maya remain indifferent to the appearance or disappearance of illumination (prakasam, the effect of sattva), activity and incessant endeavor (pravrttim, the effect of rajas), and the delusion/confusion (moham) produced by the guna tamas.


Krishna. He who with equanimity surveys

Lustre of goodness, strife of passion, sloth

Of ignorance, not angry if they are,

Not wishful when they are not:

- Ganguli.XIV.22


The Gambhirananda translation adds that this ‘sign’ (lingais - mark) of the guna free yogin’s consciousness is meant only for the one who has attained it. ‘Indeed the presence or absence of dislike and the presence or absence of liking, which are subjective, cannot be perceived by others.’ There is no point in revealing this process to your friends, who will have their own unique set of gunas to deal with; and such sharing may entrap you back in the ego. Returning to the One is a solitary journey.



It’s just the gunas!


Those who attain this state of non-attachment to the gunas remain established in their disinterested indifference ‘as if seated apart’ (Winthrop Sargeant; XIV.23). Whatever occurs, you know that it’s only the gunas operating through the five senses on their objects. This knowledge allows you to stand firm and not be swept away, carried back into attachment and delusion. You can be ‘in’ the temporal illusory hologram, but not ‘of’ it!


... he who sits

A sojourner and stranger in their midst

Unruffled, standing off, saying - serene -

When troubles break, "These be the Qualities!”

- Ganguli.XIV.23


Gambhirananda further says that those who transcend the gunas have come to identify with the Illuminator of the All, the ‘self-effulgent Truth which is changeless and devoid of duality.’ Therefore they feel no ‘connection’ with the characteristics - the body, the sense organs, and objects produced - of the things which It illuminates.



The process of detaching from the gunas


The Realization of the mechanics of the gunas can spontaneously occur to you in an instant, however it may take some time and practice to release your consciousness from its habitual responses to the effects of the gunas. You have to make the effort to observe alone how you have been snagged, like a fish on a hook, by the subtle powers of guna-maya.


Samkhya’s example of the potter’s wheel slowing down of its own momentum serves to illustrate the process and also shows how we can ‘fall’ if we once again energize the wheel by losing our focused conscious awareness. This fall in consciousness will cause us to become attached through the same old feelings of ‘I did this’ and ‘This is mine’ that give the small identity ego-self its comfort zone.



The test ...


The test is being indifferent to pain and pleasure, and perceiving them as being the same (sama-duhkha-sukha). We are, all of us, positioned on some point of the curve, the peak or the trough, that depicts movement from pleasure to pain and vice-versa.


He unto whom - self-centred - grief and joy

Sound as one word;

- Ibid.XIV.24


The test is seeing a clod of dirt, a rock (literally iron), or a piece of gold as being the same - having the same value. They are all the One.


to whose deep-seeing eyes

The clod, the marble, and the gold are one;

- Ibid.XIV.24


The test is perceiving those who are loved and that which is agreeable (priya) with the same evenness as those who are not loved and that which is disagreeable (apriya).


The test is reacting to both praise (samstati) and blame (ninda) with the same steadfast impartial dispassion (XIV.24). Everyone you know, every being is subject to their gunas - including all who dwell in the now invisible worlds, spirit guides and extraterrestrials, evolved or otherwise.


Whose equal heart holds the same gentleness

For lovely and unlovely things, firm-set,

Well-pleased in praise and dispraise;

- Ibid.XIV.24



Impartial to all ...


Those who have immersed their consciousness in the God-within as the Supreme Self (Paramatman), and have attained similitude (sadharmya) with that One, find honor and dishonor to be the same. Impartial to both friend (mitra) and foe (ari), not taking sides, they have no desire to reap the results (fruits) of any action. Thus renouncing all undertakings, they are said to have transcended the gunas (XIV.25).


... satisfied

With honour or dishonour; unto friends

And unto foes alike in tolerance;

Detached from undertakings,- he is named

Surmounter of the Qualities!

- Ibid.XIV.25


Honoring the God-within with constant unwavering devotion (bhakti yogena), they are qualified (kalpate) for liberation from death and rebirth, and absorption in Brahman (brahma-bhuyaya - XIV.26)


And such -

With single, fervent faith adoring Me,

Passing beyond the Qualities, conforms

To Brahma, and attains Me!

- Ibid.XIV.26


Abhinavagupta adds the important understanding that this devotion (bhakti yogena) must be free of all attachment to results. Those who worship only to attain desired results, ‘cannot possess unwavering devotion to the Lord.’ Unwavering devotion purifies our consciousness as devotion itself is ‘the primary power of God’ (B.Marjanovic). God is Love.


For I am

That whereof Brahma is the likeness! Mine

The Amrit is; and Immortality

Is mine; and mine perfect Felicity!

- Ganguli.XIV.27


ब्रह्मणो हि प्रतिष्ठाहममृतस्याव्ययस्य . 
शाश्वतस्य धर्मस्य सुखस्यैकान्तिकस्य .. १४- २७..

brahmaṇo hi pratiṣṭhāham amṛtasyāvyayasya ca
śāśvatasya ca dharmasya sukhasyaikāntikasya ca 14.27


In this last verse of Book XIV, Krishna firmly identifies his Self with that of the Supreme Being, the foundation (pratistha) on which rests the immortal (amrtasya) and imperishable (avyayasya) Brahman, the eternal Dharma and bliss (sukhasya) absolute (aikantikasya).





The Lokas


Saivism and the Phallic World, Vol. I & II

B. B.Bhattacharya, 1975

Munishiram Manoharlal Publishers, 1993, New Delhi


The Secret Garden: Mahmud Shabistari

Translated by Johnson Pasha

Octagon Press, 1969, London


Hindu Concept of Life & Death

Shyam Ghosh

Munishiram Manoharlal Publishers, 1989, New Delhi


Essence of the Exact Reality or Paramarthasara of Abhinavagupta
Translated by Dr. B.N. Pandit
Munishiram Manoharlal Publishers, 1991, Delhi